Counsellors, Therapy and Psychologists in Singapore

Explanation on the difference between the services provided by counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists in Singapore...

The distinction between psychiatrist, psychologist and counsellor is very unclear to many people, which often discourages them from making their first appointment as they don’t know who to make the appointment with: a counsellor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist. It helps to understand the qualifications of each, and how it works in Singapore.

The Statistics

  • It's consistently been found that up to 30 percent of adults suffer from depression and another 6 percent experience chronic anxiety
  • Severe postnatal depression debilitates 30 percent of women at a crucial point in their lives
  • 7 percent of Britons have alcohol-related problems and 1 percent report compulsive gambling
  • Other commonly occurring psychological stressors include relationship breakdown, parenting difficulties and bereavement

Expatriates and foreigners living away from home have other problems to navigate including:

  • adjustment issues
  • absent partners
  • the "trailing spouse" phenomena
  • separation from ageing parents and family

Definition: Counsellors, Psychologists and Psychiatrists

Although there is some overlap, there are crucial distinctions between the three professional groups of counsellor, psychologist, and psychiatrist as follows:

  • Psychiatrists are always medically trained, specialising in psychiatry. A psychiatrist is trained to diagnose and treat mental illness and disorder (schizophrenia, manic depression, psychoses). In Singapore they are more likely to prescribe medication rather than engage in a "talking cure"
  • Psychologists do not prescribe medication (although they are licensed to do so in parts of the US)
  • Chartered Psychologists are generally trained to doctoral level, that is they will have an undergraduate degree in psychology plus a three-year practitioner doctorate in either clinical or counselling psychology. They tend to specialise in cognitive therapy, a form of intervention found by a report commissioned for the UK's National Health Service to be "the treatment of choice" for many clinical problems (Watts 1989)
  • Counsellors' training is more varied; while some may be trained up to master's level, others have little more than a certificate or diploma in counselling; a qualification which could be acquired in less than a year of study
    Note: Some counsellors may have no actual counselling qualifications at all, but lay claim to the "counsellor" title because of their background in another related field
  • Further information on the various disciplines of psychology from the Singapore Psychological Society: Click here

Qualifications and Registration

Singapore has no legal requirement for psychologists or counsellors to be registered. Therefore, literally anyone in Singapore can legally call themselves a psychologist or a counsellor. Alongside having no actual professional training, such individuals will not be bound by a code of conduct; they do not have to adhere to the rules of professionalism and confidentiality by which properly qualified therapists must abide.

The Singapore Psychological Society is trying to raise this issue at government level. Until such time, it is strongly recommended that those seeking the services of a therapist ask two key questions:

  1. Ask the potential therapist what their relevant professional qualifications are.
  2. Ask what professional body they are accredited by. There are only a few such organisations:
    • legitimately qualified counsellors will either be accredited by the British, Australian, or US Association of Counsellors
    • psychologists will be chartered by the Australian, British, Singaporean, or US Psychological Society

Note: It is entirely appropriate to ask these questions of the professional, and a qualified person will be happy to provide all their qualification details.

If in doubt about someone's qualifications contact the Singapore Psychological Society for guidance.

Further Information

Find reputable information about Counselling, Counsellors, Therapy & Psychology Family Therapy Counsellors & Relationship Counselling in Singapore through our local business listings

Information prepared by Dr Grace McClurg, a UK Chartered Psychologist. She is registered with the British Psychological Society and the Singapore Psychological Society. She has 17 years of clinical experience. As well as having a private therapy practice in Singapore, Dr McClurg is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NUS and she has published widely. Website Copyright © 2008 Dr Grace McClurg All Rights Reserved